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  • Rajiv Mathew, a 19-year-old insomniac poses as a girl on IRC and baits 107 people to send him their photos in one night.15 of them actually do. He uploads them on his site, with their email addresses and mails. His friends consider him an Internet legend.

  • -=Sabbath=- makes a post about GOD, inviting more than three hundred heated responses from forum posters. Flame wars ensue, debates run for pages and pages.

  • Mandar, a PHP programmer and Web designer floods the forums with 3000 posts using custom made software called peekabooty.

What's common among them? They're trolls. That's right, the word troll is not limited to characters from a medieval fantasy book, but now describes people who spread idiocy in online communities. These trolls enter forums and derail topics, leaving people flabbergasted and offended. Anyone who's been frequenting a discussion forum should have encountered them.

Desdemona, moderator of the "On the Rocks" forum on Gigpad sums it up: "A troll is an overly sarcastic, idle, humourous, attention seeking individual, sometimes intelligent, rarely witty or creative, mostly annoying."

A term spawned on the Usenet, "trolls" lay bait for responses and hooks readers with provocative and controversial material generating pages and pages of responses. A troll does not generally wish to participate in the newsgroup or discuss its topic. He might not even have an inkling of the issue to begin with. His intention is to provoke. A single message from a veteran troll could spark a fight that would go on for months and cause many people to get disgusted with the discussion board and quit.

An idle mind is an Internet anarchist

Ackbar, a Counter-Strike player and forum veteran says, "Well I did a bit of trolling on the CS OTF forums. I managed to create a post that got 1400 replies and was eventually deleted for slowing down the forums. All it took was pretending to be gay."

"While we frown upon trolls, sometimes they can be funny and even demonstrate that a group of people are just too concerned about something unimportant," says Siddhi, moderator of Kawabonka forums.

Thanks to the proliferation of free easy-to-use tools and the relative lack of effort required to maintain them, discussion forums have become the basis for new communities. But every forum has its share of bigots, nihilists, extremists, anarchists and trolls. "It's fun when the humour is light-hearted and not directed at anyone personally. But there have to be limits. There was this intolerable troll called 'YOURDYINGMOTHER' who started creating really bad topics like "FAGPAD", and started disrupting serious topics of discussions with explicit pictures. We've banned him 29 times so far, but he keeps coming back," says Desdemona.

Types of trolls:

Trolls are common and predictable. Most fall into the flaming, spamming or the pretentious category. However there are those that need extensive paragraphs to describe their gimmicks. Some aren't even a single personality, and can be easily imitated by anyone.

The Homophobe
This type cannot string a sentence together without calling an offending poster a "FAG0T". More common among Counter-Strike and other game forums where the average age of posters is below 20.

Typical Quote: 'SHUT UP YOU'RE STILL A QUEER U FAG'

The MENSA troll
One with an incredibly high IQ and an ego to match. He thinks he's the smartest person in the world, and keeps explaining how utterly stupid, asinine and irrelevant everyone else is.

Typical Quote: 'I have never said "I am more intelligent than you are". Instead, it has been the desperate motivation of this entire forum to prove that I am not. What does that indicate to you? Yes, I find you moronic. Know why? It's because I have read what you've said. I can see your neurons misfiring from here. You are limited, even for this place. Your insults show no imagination, beyond what you would find in an average episode of the Power Rangers. The scope of your analytical capabilities shows a severe deficiency, even less than I would expect from a child. Your conclusions have no merit, and your evidence is doctored by your malformed ego. In short, you are a perfect representation of the average person in this country.' - Malign

And as if there weren't enough actual trolls, Internet game journalist "Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka has created a hoax called Jeff K, that's supposed to be a 16-year-old with atrocious spelling.

It's not the only one. B1FF, said to be originally created by Joe Talmadge, is one that dates back to Usenet days.

How to flush a troll

'Do not feed the trolls' -- goes an old saying. Replying to or talking about them only helps their purpose. Ignore them, and they'll eventually go away. Most trolls present only a short-term annoyance to online communities. They could be out for a quick thrill, probably post a few times and not even return to reply.

However there are those who keep coming back. Whatever controls might be available, ranging from simple and courteous reminders to outright banning and deleting, are circumvented. Most forums keep registration open and free, and trolls can register as many times as they like.

Metaltoto, moderator at RSJ Online and Gigpad forums frequents seven forums a day, and explains his system of dealing with trolls: "I tolerate a troll if he doesn't go overboard with posting on a topic, and if he can at least sometimes contribute to a discussion.

But for those that refuse to go, here are some general tips: Make sure your forum has an IP BAN function. But first, warn the troll at least three times. Be nice a couple of times. Set limits and ask him to contribute intelligently too. If this doesn't bring results, ban his user ID. If he comes back more than twice, ban his IP. If he tries coming through other IPs and PCs keep banning them too. Finally he'll get sick and move on."

More Resources:
-- Does intelligent conversation exist online?
-- What makes chat pests tick?

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